Be informed on an array of final floor solutions that finish-off a floor and bring out the best of any floor type.
Before a final floor makes its appearance, a significant amount of planning, preparation and labour goes into ensuring that the end result is as perfect as it could possibly be. This end result, the final floorcovering, isn’t the end of the design or specification process however, and some may argue that the final floor is just the beginning of creating the desired environment and atmosphere as required by a client.
Many interior designers, interior architects and architects often refer to the floor as being the foundation, or canvas, which sets the tone for all other design elements to come together in harmony, ultimately serving a desired purpose. For these reasons alone, what comes after a floor has been installed is just as important as what comes before a floor, or while a floor is being installed. After a particular floor type has been installed, various other elements relating to the floor have to be taken into consideration, namely; screeding, joints, trims, sealants and anti-slip treatments, skirtings and maintenance.
These all contribute to the final floor’s aesthetic and functional value, and this life-cycle can be demonstrated as follows:
Even though screeding and joints are considered before a floor is installed, they still add to the functional and aesthetic value of the final floor, without which the quality of the final installation can be severely hampered. This article will explore each of these final floor elements, and will highlight the types of challenges that can be faced should these final floor solutions not be considered.
Screeding a floor is the simple act of applying a well-blended mixture of cement with graded aggregates and water to a floor base, in order to form a sturdy subfloor that is capable of taking on the final floor finish or act as a wearing surface. It is one the most vital steps in flooring that plays a major role in ensuring the quality, finish and durability of the entire floor.
While a well laid screed can extend the life of a floor and add significantly to its quality, a failed screed could become an immensely expensive exercise as drastic measures would have to be taken to revive it to an acceptable condition. There are five key steps that are crucial in ensuring that a floor’s screeding is a success:
1. Choosing the right floor screeding contractor – they should have significant experience, have a skilled workforce and modern equipment, be up to date with the latest technology and have strong references to back up their claims.
2. Choosing the correct floor screed – it is important to consider what each type of screed available has to offer and how well it fits in with specified requirements in order to make an informed choice.
3. The right screed mix – The right screed mix is one that is homogenously blended in the right proportion, following the agreed mix design. When there is an option to choose between ready mix and site mixing screeds, it is important to consider the viability of each option depending on the location and available space at the work site.
4. The correct process for installing the screed – The process of screed installation should be carried out in a systematic manner to achieve the desired results. Several steps need to be followed while preparing to install the screed.
5. The right measures for screed protection – Appropriate screed protection measures straight after screed installation until the laying of the final floor finish is an extremely important step in preventing screeding failures, and is of the utmost importance in achieving screed of high quality, finish and durability. From the regulation of site traffic to covering the screeded surface with screed protectors, there are several measures that have to be considered when protecting the screed.
Joints in Commercial floors
The most common joints used in commercial or industrial floors are isolation, contraction and construction. Contraction joints (saw cuts) are considered the most important. When properly installed, contraction joints reduce cracking and minimise curling. In commercial or industrial floors, the joints tend to create problems since the edges can be broken off or degraded as heavy fork lift traffic crosses the joints.
Minimising or eliminating these joints is often the best solution. It is the designer’s responsibility to specify the location of these joints. If not defined, prior to construction, the contractor should submit a plan for layout and placement of these joints. Joints in commercial or industrial floors are usually produced by saw-cuts. Ideally, early-entry saws are used to create these joints as this technology enables the contractor to cut the joints sooner, increasing the speed of the project and preventing random cracks from developing.
Commercial or industrial floors exposed to heavy floor loads require a way for shear loads across the joints to prevent joint breakdown. As a heavy vehicle approaches a joint, the slab will deflect slightly, as even concrete bends slightly. As it deflects next to a joint, the top edge will crush against the concrete on the other side of the joint, which eventually degrades the joint. Consequently, to prevent this from happening, the two sides of the joint are tied together vertically to ensure that one side can’t deflect independently.
The edges of joints subject to heavy traffic need to also be supported to prevent them from being broken off on the adjacent slab section. In such instances, a rigid joint filler is installed, with a two component semi-rigid epoxy resin and polyureas being the most commonly used. The rigid joint filler (not a joint sealer, which will be flexible), supports the top corner of the slab. As slabs continue to shrink for years, it will often pull back from the joint requiring more fillers to be reinstalled.
After the installation of screeds, joints and the final floor, trims are the next step in accentuating the final floor’s aesthetic appeal and functionality. Trims are long, thin strips of material, usually wood, which have been shaped to fit at the end of the flooring. Trims are a necessity and not just a luxury.
Trims cover expansion gaps (these are the spaces left at each wall between the edge of the floor and the wall to allow for the expansion and contraction of the floor due to temperature and moisture). Trims also enable the smooth transition of a floor from one room to another, and even one floor type to another, while also protecting the walls when cleaning and sweeping. Various types of trims are also available for the different floor types used, and would be specified according to the needs or requirements of the chosen floor type.
The type of trim needed is dependent on its usage. If a floor meets-up with a wall, it will need a trim. Wherever the floor will meet with another floor, usually between two rooms, it will require a transition piece. Transition pieces will also be needed for areas where the floor ends at a doorway or a stairway.
Where floor meets wall
These are also known as skirtings, but unlike other trims, they do not cover the expansion gap between the floor and the wall – another piece would be attached to do that. For this reason, skirtings will be discussed as a final floor element on its own.
Quarter Round (Wood & Laminate)
The shape on the end is one quarter of a circle, with the flat sides resting on the floor against the wall, leaving a rounded hill visible over that seam.
Wall Base (Vinyl & Carpet)
This is the equivalent of a baseboard/skirting, but it is made of plastic or rubber.
Bullnose (Tile & Stone)
This is also the equivalent to the baseboard/skirting, but it is made of stone or tile.
Transition pieces to go between floors
End Cap (Wood & Laminate)
These lay over the edge of a floor and then drop straight down over the edge, “ending” the floor. It is ideal for places where the floor meets carpeting, a sliding door or anywhere where it needs to have an exposed stop.
Reducer (Wood & Laminate)
The bottom of a reducer has two levels and is designed to rest squarely on two different levels of flat flooring i.e. not carpeting, leaving a gentle curve on top. E.g. a thick hardwood floor meeting a thinner vinyl floor.
Threshold (for any floor made of wood, metal or stone)
These are used at exterior doorways or where a reducer is too small to cover the level differences, e.g. going from a lower floor to a carpet or thick ceramic or wood.
T-mold (Wood & laminate)
It serves a similar function as a reducer, but these are used when the floor is the same level. This would be used when splitting a long floating floor in a single room to avoid going over a certain length.
Stair Nose (Wood & laminate)
These finish-off the end of a step, and must be used any time laminate flooring is being installed on stairs.
Floor Sealer & Anti-Slip Treatment
Floor sealant is a protective coating applied to a variety of flooring surfaces. They are comprised of a variety of plastic polymers and adhesives that form a strong bond with each other and the hard floor. It enhances the life expectancy of a horizontal surface and is applied with either paint rollers, or squeegees and pressure sprayers which spread the sealant evenly over the floor surface.
Liquid sealant is left to dry on the floor to create a barrier against moisture, stains and signs of wear. Sealers can be used for any floor that is very porous, for example, rubber flooring. Rubber floors have deep pores, but by applying 2 to 3 coats of a floor sealer, the pores are filled and makes cleaning much easier. Sealing up the pores and removing dirt also increases the traction on the floor, making it safer.
Sealants are available for all types of flooring and offers a variety of options that can complement the décor of a room, such as clear, tinted or opaque tones. Clear floor sealants allow the original colour and texture of the flooring surface to show through, while tinted and opaque colours alter the look of the floor to match other décor colours. A combination of colour and clear floor sealants can be used to create a colourful look with a clear, glossy finish.
The surface of a floor needs to be thoroughly cleaned prior to sealing so that any debris that may reduce cohesion is removed. Wood and natural stone sealants are designed to seep below the surface of the porous natural material to form a strong bond. Floor sealants only stick to the top surface and itself on non-porous flooring materials. Once a floor sealant has been fully cured, it prevents water from entering or leaving the flooring material to stabilise its water content.
Anti-Slip treatment is used to treat tiles that are slippery when wet. It creates microscopic mountains and valleys on the surface of the tile, allowing water to disperse from wherever a person treads. After dispersing water, these microscopic valleys and mountains will create a vacuum wherever water has been dispersed, creating extra grip on the tile and thereby ensuring better safety.
This is a quick, cost effective and long lasting way to treat slippery tiles without having to replace them. Most tiles have no discernable difference in colour when treated, and will matt down. On darker colours a slight lightening in colour could occur, but a sample should be requested before commencing with treatment.
Skirtings are a popular choice for many, with the following four reasons being prominent driving factors for its usage:
1. They hide the gaps between the wall and floor. Contractors will often use skirtings to eliminate the gaping space between the wall and the floor rather than redo the whole floor over again.
2. To protect the walls from scratches and scuffs. They provide a buffer between the furniture and the walls and prevent furniture from sticking too close to the walls, which can ruin a paint job or the plastering.
3. To hide unsightly wiring. Wiring hidden within a skirting board is more practical and economical, with many PVC boards designed for this very purpose.
4. To provide a decorative element to the room. They give a room a more finished appearance by hiding gaps. Some also have mouldings which can be elaborate. These mouldings are called profiles. They can be painted according to specification, varnished or wood stained.
As has so often been said, “first impressions last,” and within the commercial environment, these first impressions need to have a positive lasting effect. To achieve this, maintenance plays a vital role in ensuring that a floor’s presentation speaks of its quality and beauty, while concurrently reflecting a company professionalism through visitor’s perceptions.
Beyond the purely physical advantages of maintenance, it is also crucial as it prolongs the lifespan of the floorcovering and upholds its quality for a much longer period of time. The following key pointers contribute to the overall maintenance success of any floor type.
Rugs placed at the entrance of an office building stop 80% of the dirt at the door, but only if proper rugs of high quality are used. This is the most effective way to cut on removal costs of dirt and will maintain that positive impression any company strives for. Not to mention the acoustic values of rugs and carpets to minimise noise. Area rugs of any material will provide some sort of acoustic benefit, especially wool. Lastly, rugs can be used by designers to add to the décor of any room or space.
The low speed swing machine is the most widely used maintenance machine because of its versatility, low cost and ease of use. These machines can be used for stripping, scrubbing, buffing all types of floors, sanding wood floors and shampooing rugs by adding a solution and a fountain brush.
Burnishers are designed to generate heat and friction that will smooth and harden floor finishes, creating a “wet” look. This hardened look is easier to maintain and will withstand more abuse. Even though they are more expensive than swing machines, they will provide a financial benefit in the long run.
Pads and Brushes
Brushes are better for cleaning natural stone tile or concrete floors and they last longer. Pads are better for buffing and burnishing but will also do an excellent job of stripping and scrubbing. Pads range from natural fibres to high-tech plastics. As a rule, the darker the pad the more aggressive the action. Black is the most aggressive and white is the least. When choosing which pad to use, it is always better to select something less aggressive.
All the above are by no means an exhaustive list of pointers and guidelines. Final floor solutions evolve as the industry evolves, and adapts to the needs of the flooring sector. There are various options to be considered once a floor has been installed to enhance functionality and add to aesthetic value. In conclusion, when considering any application of any product, technique should always be taken into consideration. It is advised to always read the product’s instructions and guidelines, speak with the manufacturer and bear in mind that incorrect application techniques can severely jeopardise the success of a final floor finish.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following websites for the information contained within this article: www.screedscientist.com; www.concretenetwork.com; www.floorstoyourhome.com; http://thecleanestimage.com; www.wisegeek.com; www.streetdirectory.com; www.swishclean.com; www.tfc.co.za